For over a century, the Michelin Guide has been the world’s pre-eminent authority on fine dining. Prestigious, thorough and notoriously secretive in its approach to reviewing establishments, receiving (or losing) a Michelin star can radically affect the fortunes of a restaurant. Not bad for something that originally started out as a promotional ploy by a tire company to get more people buying cars.
While Michelin initially focused its efforts on reviewing the restaurants and guest houses of Europe, recent years has seen Michelin offer guides for cities across the world, including multiple cities in Brazil, China, Japan and the United States.
But there’s one part of the world that’s not yet been graced with a Michelin Guide that arguably really ought to have one: Australia.
No Australian city boasts a dedicated Michelin Guide, nor is there a country-wide or even a region-wide Michelin Guide covering Australia. The closest city/country to Australia to have a Michelin Guide to is Singapore (which boasts 49 starred restaurants, including 3 3-star restaurants).
While there are plenty of countries that don’t have Michelin Guides that arguably really deserve one – Canada, Mexico and Vietnam immediately spring to mind – it seems to be a real abberation that Australia doesn’t have a single guide either.
DMARGE spoke with Australian celebrity chef and author Tobie Puttock – who’s worked in Michelin-starred restaurants himself – who thinks it’s bonkers that Michelin hasn’t deemed Australia fit to receive a guide yet.
“It’s totally crazy. Everywhere has the guide except Australia and we have such a strong food scene, with some of the world’s best restaurants… Surely it will come this way in the next [few] years.”
But the real question is this: does Australia even need a Michelin Guide? Is it something we, as fine dining aficionados, should really aspire to?
Many Aussies would argue that we’re already well-served by local restaurant guides, such as Gourmet Traveller or the confusingly similarly-named Australian Good Food Guide and The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food (which both, rather bewilderingly, use a three hat system analogous to the Michelin Guide’s star system).
The other argument is that a Michelin Star isn’t necessarily anything to aspire to. As one commenter on Chowhound has adroitly put it, “Michelin’s apparent judging criteria are the antithesis of Australian dining; people would be knocked down a star or two because the service staff didn’t refold the napkins every seven point two minutes.”
They continue: “let’s be ruthlessly honest here – we’d be looking at maybe four or five two stars and a couple of dozen one stars across the whole of Australia… Australia doesn’t value the precision and consistency required to make the star ratings.”
That’s nothing to be ashamed of, either. The Michelin Guide is a thoroughly French publication that definitely has a bias towards French standards and techniques. Australian culture, and dining culture specifically, is nowhere near as stuffy and formal. Vive la difference.
There are plenty of restaurants in Australia that, if there was a Michelin Guide, would easily make the cut, including a selection of the best restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne.. But maybe we should be less hung up about restaurant guides, and spend more time discovering great dining spots ourselves.